Folk in a
Ashley, Chloe, and I go to the cliff tops to pick sea spinach, and then stroll through the crowded streets to a sunny Saturday in the little fishing village whose quaint cottages were bought up years ago by the wealthy becoming as picturesque beauty spots tend to become once the wealthy get their hands on them; a haven for package tourists, the locals having sold out for very little money to those who would exploit their innocence. Its arteries, the tiny narrow streets, are blocked by vehicles far too big for them, and the shops sell things designed for tourists, not for inhabitants, and are full of browsers eager to leave their money behind in a mistaken belief that in doing so they will be somehow buying a piece of that paradise to take home with them.
On the way out of the village we meet Bridget from the transition group who tells us about her involvement planting trees in and around the village and the old allotments the group have negotiated with the National Trust to get going again and of the one she shares with Sue, another transitioner. It is good to know that the beautiful village has this group of enthusiastic folk acting on its behalf.
I walk on along the most idyllic 2-3 miles of lane I have yet seen; parts of the narrow wooded valley leading out of the creek looking positively tropical with bamboo growing in profusion, and then the scene changes and I walk by a brook as the lane follows its course and it be a scene straight out of “Lord of The Rings”. At the crossroads my mum comes to meet me and we walk the last mile to her house where my dad is waiting too.
We spend a leisurely day at home, and I hear the tales from my dad of how it was growing up in a weaving town in
I hear of Ike Cohen, the Jewish tailor, and of having silk lined suits hand made by saving up ten bob a week, and of having to take lunch to the weaving mill for his aunts and being afraid of the awesome noise the machinery made and how all the weavers learnt to lip read and make sign language because no one could hear themselves speak over the bellow of the machinery, and how many of the weavers eventually became deaf.
And I hear too of the many characters that my father was friends with; there was the one who could impersonate a police inspector, Jam Boot (who didn’t know how to spell) and empty an entire pub in seconds with his threatening to have them all arrested, and as handsome as anything he was, shock of dark curly and a winning smile, a proper lady’s man.
Then there was the one who looked like Andy Capp, tiny in stature and clad in his flat cap, who kept 3 women all his life and they never knew about the others. Sam was the one whose job it was to add water to the vats of 100% alcohol spirits that came into the wine shop and then bottle and label it ready for sale. He was so drunk on the fumes that he was banned from every pub in the town.
Of the many jobs my father did he remembers the wire works well, ran by the German Kurt Engels, who looked after all his workers really well, but in the war they called him a spy, though they all knew he wasn’t really. My dad, he did every job that was going in that factory so that when he came back after the war was over they came and sought him out to offer him his job back, for he could stand in for any one of the employees if they were off sick.
Of jobs over the years he had no end; the railway, the builders yard, storesman in the navy, but having a spirit of adventure he never did settle to one but was off over the sea visiting New Zealand before eventually settling back in his beloved weavers’ town, where of friends and sense of community he had no end, a sense of belonging, a sense of all being well and in its right place.
Times were hard, let no man deny, tales of running all the way to the next town with his foster father’s lunch, before running all the way back home to eat his own and then running back to school for the afternoon lessons, all in an hour and a half. There was the time a weaver he knew called him over to send him to the pie shop with tuppence to buy her lunch and when the young boy ran back, clutching the tasty hot meat pie in its paper bag, he realised he didn’t know where the woman lived, and running up and down the terraced rows he looked for her till the pie was nearly cold and in his hunger ate it up and then felt bad for days, avoiding the poor lunchless weaver.
They worked hard, in those days, make no mistake, but they played hard too, Friday night in the pub, young and old together, to get together, after the work was done. There was Frank Norris the police sergeant, who wrote his poetry at the bar at the end of his duty, and the local bobbies never worried about after hours drinking for they knew where everyone drank and if they were safe in their local why they weren’t getting up to mischief elsewhere, and so as long as their wives didn’t complain they were let be. And when the last one had been kicked out and sent off home, the policeman on duty could relax at the bar, pint in hand.
Eee, and then there was the name calling; have you ever heard
“drunk as a mop” or “daft as a brush” ?
Or what about “6 foot o’ pump wa-ther” – you were tall and thin if that was what they called you.
If they thought you’d been daft, why you were “ a great goshawk” and difficult to know where any of them had seen said sea bird to know, less it were on the annual works trip to
Then there was the chap who must have known his son’s name was Richard but any stranger to town would have been fair flummoxed for all he ever called him was
And as for the women folk…why they were “Mrs Woman” each and every one of ‘em!
Ah, good old days were them, and what characters they all were.
And why was that? The postscript to all of this; they were all interbred, them weavers, you didn’t move from town to town, you were there your whole life, so you knew everybody, and that was fun, and safe, but everyone knew everyone else’s business, and some were so interbred they were quite mad!
It’s fun to hear the antics of the characters as if out of a story book, but the reality of it all is quite sad; the rich got richer whilst the workers who made it possible had barely enough to eat, went deaf from working the machinery, and were quite happy if they could get drunk on Saturday night.
It was a hard life and yet my father remembers it with laughter and a twinkle in his eyes, it was the people that made it special, young and old, they all knew one another; a sense of community is what they had, and for all we wouldn’t go back, a taste of that community wouldn’t be a bad thing at all.
Life in a
Next day the tales continue, prompted by mum, delighted to see dad lively and in good spirits, we haven’t heard these tales in a while, some of them never before.
There was the Scott family, Irish, Jim, brither Martin who disappeared, and Evelyn who went with everyone. Jim, who wore a bowler hat and looked like Popeye, had three friends; Taff Price, who was Welsh, Mac Healey, Irish and 6 foot o’ pump wa-ther, and Raff Greenwood who was from Holcombe village and the only man they knew as could throw a cricket ball clean over Holcombe tower to the other side.
They were drinking pals and were known, tongue in cheek, as t’ heavenly choir for they would caterwaul away as soon as they had had a few jars. Jim was remembered for the time he’d been to the nearby Bury to drink and had missed the last bus home to Pot Green, the tiny hamlet where he lived. He’d set off to walk home and half way there he’d stopped to light his pipe but the wind kept blowing it out so he turned around, back to the wind, and once the pipe were lit why he just kept on walking, till the police found him, on his way to Bury, and turned him round to face the right way again and sent him on his way again.
In those days they’d drink in the tap room, where there was standing room only and so the beer was cheaper. The snug was for weekends when you’d take your wife in with you. Women in the pub without their husbands were frowned upon, though it didn’t bother Mrs Barton who could always be found there.
Transport was by train; there was the steam train to Manchester, a really busy service, which mum remembers as really exciting, and dad remembers sticking his head out in tunnels, something you weren’t allowed to do but they did it anyway, getting in trouble for everyone knew you’d done it for your face‘d come out all black from the soot! Then there was the leccie, the electric train that just ran between Holcombe Brook and Bury and was the only one of its kind as far as they knew. It got closed down when the Metro came to Bury and the station became a row of shops instead.
The highpoint of the year was the works outing and when dad worked for the Redisher Works, the cloth making mill, the trip was to
When they got there it was a football match for the men and shopping for the women and then their tea out in a big restaurant at the back of
Canned Scott was admired for being hard; he fell off the bus drunk one night and was back at work at 6am the next morning and worked for a week with broken ribs without realising he was injured.
Jim Scotty Scott made good use of the hot water urn, folk wondered how it was that their cups of tea always had stars floating on top, grease globules, but what they didn’t know was that Scotty had boiled his eggs in his wife’s hair net in the urn, he‘d cook black pudding in there too, and they didn’t find out he was doing it for ages.
He was a generous man though, he had acquired, and no one knew from where, an expensive Ma Jong set, made form pure ivory, and he’d lend it to anyone to play with. He’d lend his HMV record collection of John McCormack too to anyone ‘as wanted.
Life in and around the weaver’s town was thriving; they ‘d receive coal for their fires from Wigan, and the coalman would bag it up on the side of the railway and deliver it house to house, the train continued on to Stubbins, the mainline junction, where Crompton’s the cigarette making mill was. At Bacup there were slipper factories; that made shoes, as famous as any that came from
Dad went to school till he was 14, till then he’d go along to any school in the area he felt like. It didn’t matter really, the teacher would write your name on the register and you could stay. Everyone knew everyone else and you‘d know who you’d find in each school. ‘Twas easy to get around if you went scout pace; you could do a mile in12 minutes if you ran a bit and walked a bit.
There was no lack of entertainment in those days; dad used to go a’courting a nurse called Elizabeth in Whalley and they’d go the pub near the nurses’ home where the landlord and lady liked jazz and after the pub shut they’d all go off to the little caravan where they lived to hear their jazz records and dad’d miss the last bus home and have to sleep under a tree till the first bus came by in the morning to take him into work.
The pub was known as the 3 Fishes on account of it being at a junction of 3 rivers and dad and his mate Fagin would fish the Ribble, the Hodder, and the Calder.
They got used to going there and got to know the locals and go along to the piano and singing night at Barrow village pub. In those days there’d be a free concert every week at the local pub; there was free drink for them as performed and the pianist’d get paid his time. Every pub has piano back then, it’d be in the snug, the nanny pen they called it for you only went in there with women. In the tap room the men could swear and cuss out of earshot.
Tottington was known as the holy city on a Friday night for it had 4 pubs that you could crawl round. All different ages would be out the youngest 18 or 19 but everyone drank together so the young’uns knew their place. They had a wild time but it didn’t matter; for everyone was in the pub together.
Of a Sunday you went to church in the morning and then straight in the pub afterwards. If you wanted to meet girls it’d be at the local cricket match, where my mum and dad met, or at the dance. There was always something going on. There were two picture houses in Rammy (the locals affectionate name for their beloved Ramsbottom) and the film changed twice a week, three days each film ran and then on Sunday it’s be closed. Dad had a wood round he’d do to pay for his cinema ticket. He’d go around the woods collecting up scrap wood and twigs to tie up in a bundle to take round to sell and people would buy it to light their fires. Once he chopped down a man’s fence that had fallen into disrepair! He was never short of a penny to go the pictures; there was always someone who wanted an errand running.
At home you had Radio Relay to listen to; a choice of two programmes, medium or light. The shop rented out the radios and you had an accumulator for the battery which you took back once it had wound down and had to wait for the shop to charge it up again unless you were lucky and had two batteries. Radio Relay was a franchise from the BBC and came on at 6am and went off at 10pm.
If you wanted to keep up with what was new in the music world you could sometimes pick up Radio Luxemburg and folk would try to be the first to hear a new song and it was great when you were on the night shift for you could have the radio on whilst everyone else was sleeping.
Sometimes an adventure would be had a bit further afield like the day dad and his mate decided to go and hear Woody Hermann perform in
‘Twas fun alright, in them days!
Mum and I go off to Looe to see if we can cross to the island but though the tide is low there is still a channel of water between the main land and the island. We go and eat fish and chips by the river instead and meet Ashey and his kids out crabbing in the tidal river who said someone had tried to cross to the island but that the water was chest deep.
We go to the sea front and watch some born again Christians being dunked, fully clothed, in the sea with great aplomb. Lots of cheering from their supporters accompanies the spectacle that has drawn to it quite a gathering of bemused onlookers such as ourselves.
We wend our way home via the liquorice shop, where I am delighted to find liquorice the like of which I haven’t seen since leaving Totnes.